Life, everyday life, doesn’t provide the average person with a lot of space for contemplation. We spend our time working, tending to our family or our friends or our projects or our food or our drinks, we try to stay busy, and when we are not doing these things we sleep, and if possible we sleep the sleep of the dead in order to block out the existential mire that plagues our waking hours. We don’t necessarily want the time to think—it’s a messy, icky business and more often than not the results of contemplation are completely depressing. Because time and life and existence is bummer territory, feeling bad territory, what the fuck am I doing here anyway? territory. But try as we might we can’t avoid the conundrum forever, unless you’re a robot or a zealous ideologue, and if that’s the case the right thing for you to do is to go buy everything our sponsors sell, thanks.
At some point you contemplate your place in the world. You can’t help it, and despite all the signs pointing to the opposite, this stuff is good for you. This is that Building Character thing that our elders, woo-woo shamans, holy men and kick-ass grandparents praise so highly, the thing that makes you a you and not some Pink Floyd brick wall charlatan. These moments of clarity and definition can arise unexpectedly, they can take you by surprise as an exclamatory occurrence or they can seep into your psyche, past events that at the time seemed so inconsequential gradually find poignancy and perspective. This makes us who we are, creates us, shapes our essence. And as critical to the development of our character as they may be, these moments simply cannot be manufactured. There is no formula to character creation. However there exist a few known actions that can help culture a Character Building moment; an adventure, especially one fraught with known difficulties and unknown challenges, is one of them.
“In the throes of difficulty and the insecurity of the unknown we face mental and physical tests, the results of which will inform your future being-ness. It was on the road to Sunchuli Pass that one such moment happened for me.”
This was the highest point of our Bolivian trip. The pass was nearly 17,000 feet above sea level. It was blanketed in snow, and as we approached the crest of our passage thunder cracked like crashing bricks in the storm clouds that had settled like dark grey cotton comforters on the surrounding peaks. From this point forward we had two to three days of a riding/hiking/struggling to get through before arriving back at Charazani and our bus ride home. The road was steep but well maintained, and while we made continual, consistent progress, there was no way we were going to outrun the quickly rising storm that was chasing us up the hill from the Amazon. At this elevation11At 16700ft, the standard barometric pressure is 55 kPa (415 mmHg). This means that there is 55% of the oxygen available at sea level. we would get in 30 yards of riding (at best) before needing to take a break—that is if we were riding. At a certain point we were all walking.
“One foot after another, our bikes rolling crutches, as we made our way up the hill we had that sinking sensation that we were about to be pinched hard by weather on the roof of the world.”
Daniel had it the hardest. In retrospect it is hard to tell if he was suffering from a higher degree of altitude sickness or if his anxiety about altitude sickness was causing his body to behave as if he had altitude sickness, you know, “catch as catch can.” Either way he was suffering. We were all suffering. Most of the time we walked alone, at our own pace, gradually spreading out on the road. From time to time we would stop and regroup, check in, make a few jokes, try to get our breathing under control, and then start going again. It was during one of these regrouping moments that I mentioned to Daniel that there is so much time to think about everything, all there is in the world, yet I just keep thinking about Lucy. He says he just keeps thinking about Kieran and the Bears, and that this obsessive thought process is what fear is. “No,” I say “I think that’s what love is.” And we leave it at that. I want to be clear that this wasn’t one of those Imminent Death deals, an everything-is-in-peril moment, but we were suffering and the future, our health, our security, was definitely in question. And so because of this my consciousness defaulted to its most base, most important priority, and I gained insight and appreciation for my place in the world, what I meant to the world and what the world meant to me. Now if I were one of the enlightened beings of legend and lore I would be able to hold this moment in my mind and judge all other decisions against it. I’m not, I am a fallible petty spoiled punk who gets hung up on insignificant, inconsequential things, but at least now I have this experience, a small step forwards in my march towards a nirvana of some kind, towards transcendence and vibrational harmony and light. Or maybe I am just creating a higher, more sophisticated and nuanced sense of selfishness that allows me to travel through the world with less emotional burden. Whatever the result, there on that high mountain road where every step was a struggle, I caught a glimpse of something worthwhile.